Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
It's funny.  Laugh. United States Technology

Silly String Goes to War Against IEDs 460

Luban Doyle writes "In an age of multimillion-dollar high-tech weapons systems, sometimes it's the simplest ideas that can save lives. Which is why a New Jersey mother is organizing a drive to send cans of Silly String to Iraq. American troops use the stuff to detect trip wires around bombs, as Marcelle Shriver learned from her son, a soldier in Iraq."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Silly String Goes to War Against IEDs

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:25AM (#17146134)
    New slogan? "Iraq: It's a Party Over There!"
  • by Anonymous Coward
    They're also using bees. (Seriously). Silly string and bees.
  • by nuggz ( 69912 ) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:28AM (#17146174) Homepage
    Why isn't the government providing the tools the military needs.

    Additionally there should be a significant discount if they make a nice large contract
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Brewskibrew ( 945086 )
      We also need to send pallets of Silly Putty for training Iraqi militas to fingerprint insurgents and cases of sugar-free Trident for detecting bubbles of mass destruction.
    • by montyzooooma ( 853414 ) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:37AM (#17146320)
      "Why isn't the government providing the tools the military needs. Additionally there should be a significant discount if they make a nice large contract"

      Or more likely you'd see the birth of the $100 can of silly string in camo colors as approved military issue.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Beer_Smurf ( 700116 )
        Yes, they would cost much more. But not because of price gouging. Because the military adds all kinds of specs, testing and certification to things that drive the price up.
        • by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <Satanicpuppy@nOspam.gmail.com> on Thursday December 07, 2006 @12:06PM (#17146882) Journal
          Which, in this case, is obviously a flaw in the process. Troops find this useful in detecting bombs, therefore it should be provided. Sure it's not to spec, but this is a quick and dirty fix, with the troops displaying admirable flexibility. That should be rewarded, not denigrated because the can isn't bullet proof, or some other such crap.

          This is the biggest reason that conventional armies have trouble working against guerilla tactics...The irregulars use whatever works, so they have an extremely wide range of tactical options. We use the approved gear, which provides some high quality options, but a hell of a lot fewer of them.
          • by alexhmit01 ( 104757 ) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @12:24PM (#17147166)
            And if the officers sent in a requisition, and someone pushed it through, I can see the headlines:

            Pentagon spends millions on children's toys
            Military awards no-bid contract for toys
            Millions of cans of toys bought, unable to track
            Military fails to provide tools to troops, uses toys instead

            You are 100% right about the edge of irregulars being able to use whatever works. However, clearly our troops are just as smart and figured out how to improvise, and away go the cans of silly string. So it's being done voluntarily by people on the home front, so what, that just makes them wonderful patriots. What is with the statist notion that it is only okay if it goes through taxes and government procurement.

            The biggest problem is that we have two generations of reporters that believe their job is to undermine the government, and that that is an example of freedom of the press.

            Take the body armor issue... Our troops have some older body armor, and there is a dispute as to which ones to replace. If the government replaced EVERYTHING, we'd be screaming about waste from throwing out our perfectly good 2 year old body armor that we spent billions on. In addition, the guys in the cities don't want the bulkier armor, and were refusing to wear it, so the Pentagon, sick of the bad PR, REQUIRED the use, even for units that didn't want it.

            The anti-government press goes beyond reporting problems so that they can be fixed, and tries to play gotcha with our government. So government officials play CYA, instead of doing the right thing. It's a HORRIBLE mess, and it will take more than an emergency requisition of silly string to fix it.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by kpharmer ( 452893 )
              It's interesting that some people think that the military spends efficiently but will then criticize the rest of government for being inefficient.

              The reality is that they're all just massive bureacracies that waste money like mad - because everything takes too many review steps, too many approval steps and effective requirements gathering doesn't work this way.

              > throwing out our perfectly good 2 year old body armor that we spent billions on.

              well, there ya go - if you just spent billions on 2 year old, p
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by LukeCage ( 1007133 )

              The biggest problem is that we have two generations of reporters that believe their job is to undermine the government, and that that is an example of freedom of the press.

              Well, it may cost me my karma, but I am simply not going to allow you to get away with saying this. It is complete nonsense.

              It is not the press's responsibility to glad-hand or enable the government. It is the press's responsibility to ask questions and report the facts of the situation. Inevitiably, there will be bias. A story can c

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by evilviper ( 135110 )

            Troops find this useful in detecting bombs, therefore it should be provided. Sure it's not to spec, but this is a quick and dirty fix, with the troops displaying admirable flexibility. That should be rewarded, not denigrated because the can isn't bullet proof, or some other such crap.

            You're not looking at it properly. The Silly String company probably doesn't care if one in 100,000 cans shoots out string that is 2X as heavy as normal. However, in this use, that could get people killed.

            There's good reason

      • by PPGMD ( 679725 ) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @01:50PM (#17148524) Journal
        Why does this always come up when military spending is mentioned. The $10,000 Toilet seat is one of three examples on a submarine designed to prevent seawater from coming up the toilet, they are really expensive because of all the R&D invovled and how few are made. The $1,000 wrench is a wrench made of a non-sparking metal for use around high explosives in the USAF.

        Most of the item prices that people go off about are limited production items, and often the costs figure in R&D to bring it upto military specs, and the lowered productivity of the production line because of military auditors and paperwork. GE for example charges 25% more for the same engine if it's going to the military because the auditors slow the line down, and they have to store all the additional paperwork for years longer then would be required for it's civil product. Lockheed Martin for example is still charging the DOD for warehouse full of paperwork just for the F-16.

    • You try filling out a requisition form for $10,000,000 of silly string, and submit that to the Pentagon. See how far you get;)
    • Obviously ... they do ... have you checked the US budget lately ?
    • by Lev13than ( 581686 ) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:47AM (#17146510) Homepage
      Why isn't the government providing the tools the military needs.

      Because this isn't about military procurement - the story is only partly about evolving military tactics (if there is a real need for these items, any self-respecting logistician would do whatever it takes to get them into the hands of their unit).

      Mostly it's about people on the home front trying to feel like they are contributing. In that sense it has more in common with the campaign to knit socks [historylink.org] in WWI or recycling [about.com] in WWII.
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:57AM (#17146724) Homepage Journal
      Because to make sure that the contractors are not cheating the government they would have to spends years and months putting it out for a competitive bids, writing specs, and following regulations.
      To give you an example the USMC wanted to buy the software my company produces.
      It had tried several and like ours the best. So they wrote a spec that our software fit and put it out for bids.
      The request for bid came in a BOX that weighed 50lbs! Mind you this was off the self software that thousands of other people where using everyday.
      Fine we did the paperwork and summited a bid at a low price. A competing company then submitted their software for the bid and lied that it would meet the specs. We lost the bid by $50. Of course our yearly support contract was $500 a year less for that number of seats than the winner.
      Fine three years latter the other company was out of the business because frankly their software sucked and it started all over again.
      We won it this time but the government wasted well over $100,000 on software that was now useless.
      There are so many rules and regulations in place to stop abuse that it extremely painful to get anything done.
      Back in the late 90s a lot of pilots bought their own GPS and laptops because the Air-Force hadn't installed the integrated mil-spec units yet.
      In the 80s they bought radar detectors for the same reason.
      This isn't really anything new. Soldiers have been buying supplemental equipment since David spent his allowance and a state of the art sling and extra hard stones.
    • by darkmeridian ( 119044 ) <william DOT chuang AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:59AM (#17146760) Homepage
      It's near-impossible to predict exactly what troops on the ground need before you actually get there. Therefore, American soldiers have always innovated in the absence of the right tool for the job. In World War II, soldiers fighting in France were getting bogged down in hedgerows, which were basically dunes. Aerial photos did not reveal the three-dimensional structure of the hedgerows, so the soldiers were not prepared for such a battlefield. Defending Germans would lay in ambush behind every hedgerow, and American soldiers going over the top of the hedgerows were mowed down by German machine gun fire.

      Initially, GIs tried to dynamite the hedgerows so they could attack from a more concealed position. Though this met with some success, it took up too much dynamite. Other GIs tried to drive tanks through the hedgerows, but those got stuck and wouldn't reliably penetrate the hedgerows. Eventually, the soldiers welded on a long metal rod onto tanks. The tip of the rod contained a barrel of explosives that was detonated once the tank shoved the rod into the hedgerow. The "Rhino" saved many American lives by creating a fast and safer way to secure hedgerows in France.

      The current administration should be faulted for many things. However, not being able to anticipate Silly String as a precious wartime commodity should not be one of them. I mean, no one would have thought that this would have saved American lives -- and in fact, it was only the innovation of the American soldier that created such a need for a child's toy.
    • by Bender0x7D1 ( 536254 ) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @12:54PM (#17147676)

      When I was in the U.S. Marines, we used a low-tech, low-cost solution that was used in Vietnam...

      We would tie a string to the end of our M16 or a long, thin stick, and have it hang to the ground. You move forward slowly and watch the string. If it stops hanging straight down, you need to stop moving forward and find out what is blocking the string.

      The advantage is that it forces you to move more deliberately that just shooting silly string. The downside is you are right next to the tripwire when you find it.

  • That's a really ingenious use of Silly String. I just hope it continues to work.
    • Me too. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DG ( 989 )
      In fact, I'm going to teach that to our guys tonight.

      Who'd've thunk I'd pick up a tactical tip from Slashdot?

    • by Xzzy ( 111297 )
      I think the only problem I can imagine with the trick is that you get a relatively small amount of string out of a single can. If you coat every room you enter with this stuff, you'll go through a lot of cans really fast. Can't this stuff be imaged? I would think an infared emitter and a camera to detect reflection off the wires would work too. I guess that assumes the tripwire is actually metal, but I'd think thread or fishing line would be detectable too.

      I could also see the terrorists increasing the sens
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by xappax ( 876447 )
        I could also see the terrorists increasing the sensitivity of the trip wires

        Yeah, that's the first countermeasure I thought of too - but we're talking about such a small change in weight/pressure that the wire would probably be tripped by a breeze or strong vibration.

        I can't really think of any other good ways to make the tripwire undetectable, but it'd be pretty trivial to exploit the silly string IED detection method by producing false positives. Just string up fishing line in dark rooms all over th
  • Boom! (Score:3, Funny)

    by tttonyyy ( 726776 ) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:30AM (#17146216) Homepage Journal

    1,000 cans of the neon-colored plastic goop are packed into Shriver's one-car garage in this town outside Philadelphia
    Just needs one unstable can, and BOOM! One explosion in a spaghetti factory. :)
  • by DumbSwede ( 521261 ) <slashdotbin@hotmail.com> on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:33AM (#17146258) Homepage Journal
    OK call me overly sensitive, I usually am against Political Correctness, but this is a serious issue. DEADLY serious.

    I'm glad this low tech method of booby trap detection is being used. My nit however is in leading the article with the "It's Funny, Laugh" icon.

    There is a humorous element in using a humorously named children's toy for sure, but I still chafe at the juxtaposition of the Monty Python foot with something that is in actuality so far removed from humor.
    • Let's make it in olive green and sell it for ten times as much!
      • Let's make it in olive green and sell it for ten times as much!

        Now that would be silly... The thing is supposed to be well visible so it detects booby traps. Making it camouflage-colored is hardly going to improve its performance. Again, it would be so fitting... "Silly String in stupid format for an idiotic war!"

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I agree. There should be an icon for a "cool idea". Like a lightbulb with icicles on it (or something).
    • by TheJasper ( 1031512 ) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @12:02PM (#17146828)

      OK call me overly sensitive, I usually am against Political Correctness, but this is a serious issue. DEADLY serious.
      You are overly sensitive. Almost all humor is based on pain/humiliation in some form or another. There are certainly exceptions, but very often humor is used to laugh at serious things. DEADLY serious things. Just think about it. Here is you're highly trained soldier creeping around with his night vision goggles, instant communication with HQ, live satelite imagery being fed to his pda. His grenades have an IQ higher than we do. he steps up to the door of a house. he carefully opens it. Then he sprays the house with silly string. It's Funny, Laugh.
  • Old news! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:39AM (#17146370)
    This was mildly interesting when it was reported about the SAS [thesun.co.uk] ages ago.

  • Seriously, silly string can be used during skirmishes as well.....has anyone ever gotten an eye-full of that stuff? Hurts like hell....
  • by British ( 51765 ) <british1500@gmail.com> on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:45AM (#17146462) Homepage Journal
    Isn't this the 2nd time war and toys have crossed paths? IIRC Silly Putty was made by accident in WW2, attempting to make an explosion. While no explosive was made, the designers pressed it on a newspaper photo and went "but hey! Look what you can do with Hitler's face!"

    Let's look for other toys with the word "silly" in them to see if they are usful in military applications. I'm betting now there's some research funds diverting towards it.
  • Name Change (Score:5, Funny)

    by writermike ( 57327 ) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:51AM (#17146586)
    "Silly String?"

    Couldn't we at least change the name to Freedom String-In-A-Can?
  • We used to use a metal coat hanger.

    Untie the hook part and strighten it up. Make a finger loop at the top and curve it slightly at the bottom. Hold in font of you when walking, you will notice when it contacts something trust me.

    The use of silly string is hardly enviromentally friendly and I see that US forces did not learn of the even cheaper trick from the Brits. Perhaps you dont have metal coat hangers in the US who knows.

    I still think tin upon tin of silly string will amount to lots of $$$ though.

  • The BSharps can put that whole "poisonous" thing behind them and start producing the silly string again!
  • by edxwelch ( 600979 ) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:56AM (#17146680)
    "The military is reluctant to talk about the use of Silly String, saying that discussing specific tactics will tip off insurgents."
  • IIEDDD (Score:3, Funny)

    by fuggo ( 806416 ) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:58AM (#17146732)
    Would that then make silly string an IIEDDD?

    improvised improvised explosive device detection device
  • by amper ( 33785 ) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @12:51PM (#17147628) Journal
    ...was the scene in Shelob's Lair from the LOTR movies. Seriously.

    I wonder, could we make something akin to "Silly String" that could fire huge globs of a gooey, rubbery, net-like substance that could be used to immobilize people?

    I figure, if anybody out there knows, or has tried this, they're probably on Slashdot...
  • by Micklewhite ( 1031232 ) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @01:44PM (#17148450)
    Using every day objects and the sort is pretty commonplace on the battlefield. Back during the Napoleanic war soldiers used to piss down the barrels of their guns to clean them out. In World war I, allied soldiers brought bathtubs with them into the trenches, and would launch them with catapults into the enemy trenches. The Germans and Turks had developed completely different bathtubs at the time, and were terrified of the Allied tubs. This always led to a horrendous panic in the German trenches, which would almost always be followed by a push across no mans land by the allies. It's said that the Dardanelles could have been taken, had Churchill been provided with adequate bathtubs. During World War II allied soldiers brought white makeup along with them so if they ever got caught they'd paint themselves up like mimes. When the Germans tried to question them and saw the white makeup they just let them go, knowing that there'd be absolutely no way they could get a mime to talk. Then during the Korean war soldiers made good use of old coffee grounds. Since the North Koreans knew soldiers always drank a lot of coffee, if they found old coffee grounds they assumed there was a base near by and retreat. In the first Iraq war American soldiers used to bring soccer balls along with them. At the outbreak of the war almost all of Iraq's soccer balls were destroyed in a freak smoke stack toppeling. When ever the Americans got in a serious fire fight, they'd just lob their soccer ball into the frey and all the enemy soldiers would just stop and try to get it, which usually ended quite badly for the enemy. Unfortunatley Iraq was able to build up a tremendous stock pile of soccer balls since the first war, so the strategy doesn't work any more.

    It's quite remarkible how such common things can prove to be so useful. I think it's overall a great testimant to human ingenuity in time of war.

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming